Everyone loves the long ball. Whether it is Bubba Watson or Rory McIlroy, watching the big boppers pound a golf ball a country mile is awe-inspiring.
Jamie Sadlowski airmails their drives when he lets the big dawg eat. For more than a decade, the 5-foot-11-inch, 168-pound Canadian has whipped crowds into a frenzy as the face of long drive, winning the 2008 and 2009 World Long Drive Championship and making the final eight 10 straight times. But “Super Freak,” as he was affectionately called, retired late last year to chase his dream of playing the PGA Tour. It becomes all the more real Thursday when he will make his Tour debut in the Dean and DeLuca Invitational as a "champions choice" sponsor exemption at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It's very Happy Gilmore-ish, except he's really got skills," said Art Sellinger, a two-time long-drive champion and Sadlowki's agent, comparing his client to actor Adam Sandler’s golf movie hero.
Sellinger is among a handful of people, including CBS analyst Gary McCord and Tour veterans Chez Reavie and Geoff Ogilvy, who have been encouraging Sadlowski to give pro golf a shot.
"I thought he should've done it three years ago," Sellinger said. "I've seen him shoot 65 too many times and never work at it. In my 40 years in golf, I've never seen somebody so natural."
McCord, who caddied for Sadlowski at U.S. Open qualifying last year, describes the way he compresses a golf ball as like "a supernova exploding."
"The first time I met him, I was at the Whisper Rock member-guest (in Scottsdale, Ariz.)," McCord said. "There was a cart in front of me with a Tour bag on it and a towel over the name. I could see the first name ‘Jamie’ and ‘S.’ I thought, It can't be that long-drive guy. So, I walked in the grill and at the top of my lungs said, 'All right, where's Sadlowski?' This little scrawny guy in the corner raises his hand. Within 10 minutes, at the most, I had him and 25 members out on the range. I even dragged Miller Barber out there. Miller couldn't see that far. He said, 'Where did it go?' I told him over the back of the range. He said, 'That's 380!' He didn't believe it. No one did, but we could still probably go fetch those balls out there in the desert."
Sadlowski, 28, was earning a healthy living doing more than 60 corporate outings per year, and competing in the World Long Drive Championship. But long drive is a novelty and Sadlowski was more entertainer, breaking panes of glass, than athlete.
"I needed a new challenge," he said. "I didn't want to live with the regret of not trying."
Sadlowski grew up in the three-stoplight town of St. Paul, Alberta, working on his slap shot, not his short game. He played on a nine-hole muni with a three-month season. He didn't compete in junior, high school, amateur or collegiate events. In fact, when he accepted a sponsor exemption into the 2011 Albertsons Boise Open on the Web.com Tour, he had never played in a tournament.
"There are 9-year-olds that have signed more competitive scorecards than Jamie," Sellinger said.
Sadlowski has made three of four cuts on the Web.com Tour, and he was medalist at a 2016 U.S. Open local qualifier. He
also has made cuts on the Mackenzie and Asian tours.
To rebuild his golf swing, Sadlowski started working with instructor Peter Kostis, whom he has known for several years from Whisper Rock Golf Club.
"Peter told me a couple of years ago, 'When you're ready to get good, call me,' " Sadlowski said. "I hit rock bottom in Australia (at the Australian Open and NSW Open in November). When the fundamentals aren't good, you can't fake it when it's blowing 40 mph. The day after I got home, I called him and said, 'I'm ready.' "
Kostis switched his ball flight to a power fade, and tapered his tempo so that his ball speed is down to 195 mph, still 10-15 mph faster than the fastest on Tour. That clipped 50 yards off his driving distance. It’s a good thing that he has 50 yards to spare.
"It feels to me like I'm swinging slo-mo," Sadlowski said.
Dennis Paulson won the 1985 Long Drive and later the 2000 Buick Classic on the PGA Tour. But he was a golfer first, and pursued long drive by accident.
"Jamie would be the first guy to go the other way. It's going to be insanely hard," said Paulson, a SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio analyst. "I've never seen a player with that strong of a grip have all the shots. It's stronger than (David) Duval or (Paul) Azinger ever was. Can he control trajectory enough to be great with the wedges?"
Sadlowski gained inspiration from Wesley Bryan, who has gone from trick-shot artist to Tour winner in record time. Sadlowski and Bryan became friendly through their roles as ambassadors for Lexus and Callaway, and they played together last year at a Web.com Tour event in Bogota, Colombia. "I look at him and think, Why not?" Sadlowski said.
But Bryan was weaned on golf by his father, a PGA professional, and had success at the collegiate and amateur levels. Sadlowski has a lot of catching up to do, and his journey begins on the Mackenzie Tour, where he has conditional status this season.
"He's going to get an education this week," McCord said. "He hasn't been working on hitting little wedges and knocking in 4-footers left to right since he was 6 years old like most of these guys."
"I want to give it 3-4 years and reassess," Sadlowski said. "I don't want to drag it out until I'm 40."
The odds of making the Tour are long, but no one does long like Sadlowski.
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak